Steny Hoyer is a congressman from Maryland and the House Democratic whip.
With the start of the baseball season this month, many Americans are once again focusing on a cherished national tradition. But there is another great tradition that deserves renewed attention: our longstanding practice of supporting a strong and competitive manufacturing base right here in America. As our nation continues to face economic challenges, Congress needs to step up to the plate to make sure jobs remain at the forefront of its agenda by taking concrete steps to help our manufacturing sector expand and create opportunities for our middle class.
Throughout the twentieth century, America produced the goods that made the world run – and that manufacturing, in turn, produced opportunities that grew our middle class and sustained a thriving American Dream. However, over the past several decade, we've seen manufacturing jobs decline. Many Americans believe that, in order to maintain a strong and prosperous country, we still need a strong and vibrant manufacturing sector.
That's why House Democrats introduced our Make It In America jobs plan three years ago with a focus on revitalizing our manufacturing base. Since then, Congress has passed a handful of Make It In America bills into law with bipartisan support, including making it easier to file and protect patents, helping businesses compete on a level playing field in exports and investing in job training for our workers. But this pales in comparison to what could be achieved if bitter partisanship in Congress were not distracting from sound policymaking.
The potential is already there. Over the past few years, our manufacturing sector has seen very promising gains, and with the right conditions it is poised to take off. Lower energy costs at home and rising wages abroad are factors that make manufacturing in America much more attractive now than just a few years ago. And we still have the most productive and innovative workforce in the world.
As my colleagues and I traveled around the country talking about our Make It In America plan with business leaders, labor representatives and entrepreneurs we asked them what Congress ought to do to help grow our manufacturing base. We've heard the same four answers: adopt and pursue a national manufacturing strategy, promote the export of U.S. goods, encourage businesses to bring jobs and innovation back to our shores and train and secure a skilled workforce for the twenty-first century. House Democrats are listening, and have made these four policy items the core of our Make It In America plan for this Congress. We believe these four components of our plan can have a significant impact on our economy and also have the best chance of attracting broad, bipartisan support in Congress.
The first point is simple but essential: we must have a strategy. We need to bring all the stakeholders – business, labor, innovators, educators, economists – to the table to adopt and pursue a national manufacturing strategy, much like other nations have done successfully to leverage their strengths.
Second, Congress needs to continue taking steps to promote the export of U.S. goods. President Obama set an ambitious goal in his 2010 State of the Union address to double exports by 2015. We're nearly halfway there, and Congress needs to double down on helping manufacturers access new markets and transport their goods to markets more efficiently.
Third, we have to do more to encourage businesses to bring jobs and innovation back to the U.S. We remain the world's leading innovation economy and need to take steps to make sure that doesn't change. When manufacturing jobs move overseas, researchers and innovators often follow. But through targeted tax incentives and programs such as a permanent extension of the research and development tax credit and a new credit for moving expenses incurred while bringing jobs home, Congress can lure manufacturers back to the United States – and encourage them to stay here.
Finally, in order to remain the world's greatest center for innovation, we must train and secure a highly skilled 21st century workforce. Manufacturing businesses will locate production where they know they can count on a supply of experienced, skilled and innovative workers. Not only will Congress have to invest strategically in education and job training programs that prepare workers for in-demand jobs, it must also ensure that we are not losing the foreign students we train to jobs overseas. As Congress works on immigration reform, expanding visas for highly skilled graduates in fields like engineering and technology ought to be part of any agreement.